Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who's driving your bus?

I've read the book The Stranger by Albert Camus more times than I've read any other book, with the possible exception of Caddie Woodlawn, a coming-of-age-young-woman's tale set in the old frontier which i read annually so I could use it for every book report and English project I had to do from grades third through sixth.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Stranger, it's basically a story about a Frenchy guy that likes to smoke, take long lunch breaks, people watch from his balcony, and ditch work to hang out with his girlfriend on the beach. Then one day, he commits a sudden, senseless crime and finds himself in jail trying to explain to people why he did it and, unfortunately, he really doesn't have an answer. It just happened.

I haven't been asked to write a book report in a very long time, but i still find myself reading The Stranger every other year or so. I've found solace in that book the way people normally find solace in the Book of Psalms or Chicken Soup for the (fill in age bracket and occupation) Soul.

Why do I love this book so much? It tackles the most difficult question anyone can ask you in this world--Why?--and answers it with the most juvenile and unhelpful answer anyone can give--I don't know. This book was the seed for the only philosophy I have in this world, which I will share with you today.

So here goes... Armin's Philosophy of Life:

In answer to the question WHY, I sincerely hope that either 1) everything in this world has a purpose and there is a plan for us OR 2) everything is meaningless and random. These may seem like very different belief systems, but I think the end result is the same. Either way, I'm can't be held accountable for any of my decisions or their consequences.

If you believe in the former, you like to use this tidy, little standby when things get rough: What's meant to be is meant to be. Sweet and convenient. A cloying pull of optimistic taffy to stick between your gritted teeth during the more painful times in your life. On the other hand, the latter viewpoint may seem a bit more depressing at first, I guess because people want desperately to believe there is Purpose in this world, that Someone (God, Allah, L. Ron Hubbard) knows what that Purpose is, and that we are an important and positive part of that Purpose. But, believers of the latter philosophy still get a cute little mantra to chant during the bad times: Que sera, sera (What will be, will be). Notice there is a subtle distinction between the two phrases. It's best illustrated as simple arithmetic problem: WHAT WILL BE, WILL BE is the difference calculated when PURPOSE is subtracted from WHAT IS MEANT TO BE, WILL BE. Personally, I think this is a small difference, but apparently to the rest of the world, it's not. To the rest of the world, it's the difference between Christians and Atheists, optimists and pessimists, Albert Camus and whoever wrote the screen play for When Harry Met Sally.

I'm not a philosopher and didn't do all that hot in the one philosophy class I took sophomore year of college. But here's an analogy to explain my point like Plato's Man in the Cave.

1.) You're riding a bus. You have to get off sometimes and get back on sometimes. If you believe in MEANT TO BE then the bus driver knows the route even though you don't know the route yourself. And this bus driver is a nice fella; even though he never talks to you, for some reason you have faith that he knows where he's going and is making sure you get off at the right stops. Also, you have free will so you get to pull a little yank cord above your head if you want to stop and get out. But the thing is, the bus driver knows better than you so maybe he'll stop when you pull the cord, but maybe he'll just keep going because he knows the next stop will get you closer to where you need to be. There's reason and planning to it all, even if you're not privy to the knowledge the bus driver has.

2.) On the other hand, if you believe in WILL BE, then the bus driver has no idea where he's going. Shit, there may not even be a bus driver, for all you know. Somehow the bus is driving a random, unplanned route and lets you off any old place and picks you up whether you are ready or not. You still have free will. You can pull that yank cord, and just like the passenger on the bus with the benevolent bus driver, sometimes the bus will stop, but sometimes it won't. You sometimes think the driver's a dick and is just ignoring the beeping, automated "Stop Requested" voice every time you yank on that cord. More likely though, the cord is the arm of a slot machine. Sometimes you pull it and the bus stops, sometimes it doesn't and you know it's nothing personal. That's just how the bus is built.

So, is there really a big difference between having a benevolent bus driver who knows where he's going or a self propelled bus that has no predetermined route? On both buses, you're still moving. On both buses, you still get to yank a cord that works only occasionally anyway. On both buses, the ride eventually ends and since you don't know the route on either bus, you won't know when your ride ends.

So I don't have any problem with either of these situations and will vacillate between the two frequently, leaning more towards the WILL BE after reading The Stranger and leaning more towards the MEANT TO BE when i watch romantic comedies. There's only one situation I pray is not true; wouldn't it be horrible if it turns out I'm the bus driver? I have complete control of the wheel and the pedals. I stop when I want, I start when I want, and if I get lost, it's my own damn fault. If I stop the bus and get off well before my destination, there's no one to blame.

Can you imagine waking up one day, realizing your life is fucked up, and having to admit it was all your fault? No thanks. I hate responsibility. I much prefer chili con carne.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

glory days

I heard from a very reliable source that my old college roommate and fellow chemistry major, Scott Whitman, is hooking up with Jackie LePage. I'm going to let that sink in for a minute. Jackie LePage, aka, JLP. Quite arguably the most attractive chem major ever at the College of New Jersey, though to be perfectly objective about it, chemistry rarely recruits the hot girls with the volume that other majors can like business, psychology, or professional beach volleyball. Regardless, this is quite the feat to be seen publicly with a girl that was the punchline for four years of inappropriate chemistry/sex puns such as "bonding between the sheets" and "backside attack."

So how did he pull off this remarkable accomplishment? Hell if i know; he hasn't returned my texts... probably too busy with JLP, which is perfectly understandable. Anyway, fishermen don't give out coordinates for where they catch the big ones, do they?

Last I saw him in December, he didn't look or act any different from what i remember. That's a good thing; he was a great guy in college and it'd be a shame if he changed. But the point is he doesn't seem to dress any better than I remember, hasn't lost or gained any weight, still smokes and loves television, and certainly hasn't undergone any growth spurts. If anything, he's just grown his hair out into a long mess, and if that's the only thing that was preventing them from getting together in college, well I'm sure he would gladly have saved his ten bucks and not gotten a hair cut every couple months.

I guess the moral is that maybe we didn't all peak during our college glory days. Perhaps we do still have a few good years left to accomplish the things we were supposed to achieve by 21. This might be a good time for me to take another stab at Calc 3 with Dr. Conjura and try to redeem myself after earning the unfathomably low score of zero on the second test.

Friday, March 14, 2008

pointing out the obvious

I checked in a customer at the airport by the name of Tom Jones.

"Tom Jones, huh?"
"yeah, i get that a lot."
"I bet it's not unusual."
Polite laughter.

I wanted to pepper my small talk with more annoying Tom Jones references, but he was running late and I'm sure he wouldn't have taken too kindly to missing his flight because I needed more time to figure out how to slip "Sex Bomb" into the conversation.